Tunisian president cements power over judiciary

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Tunisia’s president cemented his grip over the judiciary on Sunday with a decree that lets him dismiss judges or block their promotion, helping consolidate his power after he seized executive authority last summer in a move his foes call a coup.

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President Kais Saied outraged his opponents and alarmed democratic foreign allies with his announcement last week that he was dissolving the Supreme Judicial Council, a body that guaranteed judicial independence.

Saied, a former constitutional lawyer and the husband of a judge, has accused the council of acting for political interests and has set up a temporary replacement to oversee judges’ work while he prepares broader changes.

The judiciary was seen as the last remaining institutional block on Saied’s actions after he suspended the parliament last year and said he could rule by decree.

Saied has said his actions were temporary and were needed to save Tunisia from a corrupt, self-serving elite that had allowed its economy and politics to stagnate for years and brought the state to the brink of collapse.

Some Supreme Judicial Council members and other judges demonstrated last week and shut down many courts with a two-day strike in protest at Saied’s moves on the judiciary.

However, Saied issued a new decree early on Sunday creating a temporary new council, with no fixed term, to oversee the judiciary and saying judges had no right to go on strike.

The decree also said Saied has the right to object to the promotion or nomination of any judges and is responsible for proposing judicial reforms, effectively giving him sole power over the entire justice system.

With Tunisia facing a rapidly looming crisis in public finances, the Western donors that have previously bailed it out have voiced deep concern at Saied’s moves and have said any political process needs to be inclusive.

The main opposition Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that has played a major role in most governments since the revolution and is the largest party in the suspended parliament, has called a protest for later on Sunday in Tunis.

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